Panto Blog 2015-16
So this is how my warped Pantomime Mind works...
It's a Wednesday afternoon at the end of November. I am all ready for my first panto of the season, this coming Saturday night in Newcastle.
But there is this lingering thought at the back of my mind....
I am working 42 miles from Coventry, and their Pantomime "Beauty and the Beast" opens tonight. I have 90 minutes to get from my office to the theatre, park up and buy a ticket. It's rush hour, there will be horrific traffic on the A14/M6 and I don't stand a chance. I can't call the TwinsFX to send me their flying carpet / helicopter or car, but like any pantomime hero, I decide to put my faith in the Fairy Godmother, and hope for the best.
84 minutes later, I am parked somewhere "near" the theatre even though I don't know where it is, and I have 6 minutes to find it, buy a ticket, ideally visit the Gents, and start filling in my All NEW for 2015/16 pantomime crib sheet!
Huffing, puffing, sweating, and having had an unwanted workout, I just about make it to the theatre. Thankful that I don't know any of the cast here, and I can just plank my tired body down and watch the show, and nobody need see me looking the complete mess that I am.
As I race to the box office, careful not to barge any young children out of the way (I am not Boris Johnson!) I hear a cry "Daniel, how are you, didn't expect to see you here tonight". NOOOOOO my cover has been blown!
Of course I am delighted to see my old friend, and Dame, Richard Aucott, who is visiting this show before he starts his preparations to help Jack defeat the Giant in Barrow's Strictly Productions "Jack and the Beanstalk". He is joined by Strictly's Director, Ben Anderson, and Alex Richards, who has been given the task of Strictly's Chauffeur for this panto season!! Having spoken to Ben on numerous occasions I was looking forward to meeting him, but perhaps not after a mad dash to the theatre.
After a quick "Hi" I need to buy a ticket, we agreed to have a proper catch up and introduction at the interval.
So as the band began their warm up, I arrived in my seat, glad I had made it, and excited to see my first show of the new season.
I had never been to the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry before, and found it a beautiful theatre. I also surprised myself by realising this was also my first ever Imagine show... after seeing Beauty and the Beast it certainly won't be my last!
This was the first time the show had been performed in front of a live audience, and the tickets were a steal at £14.50. Whilst there were no household names in the show, the cast were regulars in this show, and the capacity crowd were excited to see their old favourites again.
Overall, I really enjoyed the show, the sets were spectacular, and there were a number of very funny scenes. I loved the inventive "The Last Time I Saw The Giant" song, sung to the tune of the 12 days of Christmas. There was also a wonderfully messy Baking Scene, where a poor gentleman in the audience got mistaken for an Iced Bun! Well that's what he looked like when the Dame and Willie Crumble had finished with him.
If there was a criticism it would be that the first half at 80 minutes was a little bit too long, and as a result, at times it did feel a little bit slow paced. Don't get me wrong, it was a good show, and I would certainly look to go back again next year, but when you compare it to some of the other shows out there, the non stop paced pantomimes tend to be those that come top in the end of year awards.
I heard the first Uptown Funk of the season, I somehow think I will be hearing it a few more times before I get to the end of January!!
Special Mentions have to go to the Writer and Dame, Iain Lachlan, who was excellent, and Andrew-Gordon Watkins as the excellently irritating Maurice, with his side kick, the superb Blake Scott as Dork, but for me the energy of Craig Hollingsworth stole the show.
My favourite line of the show, had to be when Willy Crumble was trying to rescue Beauty out of a hole.
Willy to Dame "Don't Drop Me"
Dame" I'll hold you Willy"
Willy"I'd rather you held my ankles"
I also found it amusing when Maurice came through the audience looking for the Beast and declared he had found him, whilst looking at some poor lady on the front row. That is why I always try to see further back!!
I was really pleased I had made my first visit to the Belgrade Theatre and I don't believe it will be my last.
There was time for a quick critique and catch up with the Strictly Productions team, before they headed back up the Beanstalk, well M6 to Telford / Wolverhampton areas, and I returned to Kettering.
I will look forward to catching up with them later in the season.
That leads me nicely on to my favourite part of Pantoland, and that is the Socialising.
Thanks to www.its-behind-you.com publishing my original blogs, and the Social Media revolution, I have now managed to make some really good friends in Pantoland.
So much so, that in probably over half the shows I will see this season, I will be socialising with at least some of the cast and crew afterwards. Already this year, I have made plans to meet with some friends I have been tweeting for ages, and never met, as well as catching up with some old friends. I will FINALLY get to meet Martin Ramsdin, in Southend, Ben Nickless in Nottingham, and Brad Fitt in Shrewsbury.
I can't wait to catch up with Danny Adams, Mick Potts, Steve Arnott, Clive Webb and I HOPE Chris Hayward in Newcastle to kick of the season for real on Saturday.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't incredibly excited to see what my friend and comedy genius Christian Patterson has done to Peter Pan in Stoke.
He tells me I am putting him under pressure, and as I tell him, I'm not, the guy is a comedic genius and if I could chose one person to make me laugh, it would be him EVERY TIME! Add in the fantastic Jonny Wilkes and you really do have a dream team to light up the Potteries.
My disappointment that I wouldn't see Simon Nehan in Stoke this year has been curtailed now I know he is in Woking and I will get to see him there instead. Just a shame there's no Kai Owen this year, so he and Ant could grumble about Manchester United in the pub after the show!
I'm also looking forward to going for a drink with Peking's favourite Policeman - Mr Pong, better known as the fabulous Phil Holden, and his crew in MK. Now there is a real star studded cast this year!! and I also hope to catch up with Chris Nelson, and Andy Collins in Aylesbury. I have my Jazz Hands at the ready, and I must thank Andy (a Watford fan) for selling Sheffield Wednesday Fernando Forestieri and loaning us Daniel Pudil !
Then of course there are the Team Evolution, led by Paul Hendy, who has been very supportive of www.pantoinsider.com this year, and I can't wait to thank him in person. I also can't wait to see what he's persuaded Damian Williams to do this year in Sheffield. That is also going to be some show, with the awesome Hilary O'Neil, who was Female Baddie of the Year last time out! She's back to being a goodie this year!!
It really is my happiest time of year, and just love how social the whole Panto scene really is.
On Saturday I head up to my old stomping ground of Newcastle, but this year, rather than watching the show alone, not only will I have my other half with me but I will be joined by another Panto fan, and now friend Joe Purdy.
I am so excited as I write my first entry into this years Blog, the 2015-16 Panto Season is open, and I hope you will join me over the next 8 weeks, as I drive over 4000 miles, and max out my American Express and Visa cards, to bring you the www.pantoinsider.com tour 2015-16.
I hope you enjoy the journey.... next up Newcastle and Dick Whittington!
Dick Whittington - Newcastle
So on Saturday, I set off on the 150 mile journey up to the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, looking forward to catching up with old friends.
After a lovely afternoon catching up with my old friends Hilary Gibson, and her hubby Graeme, it was time to meet up with Joe Purdy, who will be joining me on a number of my travels this year and head to the theatre. First stop, the Box Office to secure our tickets for Cinderella in 2016/17.
It was then time to head to our seats, when we bumped into a lovely surprise.
"Isn't that, it is... Andrew Hi". Yes, fresh from a week Directing Darlington's Cinderella, Andrew Ryan was enjoying a well earned evening off watching the Newcastle pantomime.
Once Andrew has finished putting the talented cast in Darlington through their paces, he will head down to Birmingham to star as Widow Twankey in Aladdin. Rather than having to wait till New Years Eve to see this pantomime superstar, it was great to not only see him tonight, but get to spend a bit of time with him, before, during and after the show. We were also delighted to bump into Mark Whitney as well. Finally I was able to say hi to someone I've been friends with on Facebook for years!
If I wasn't already buzzing from seeing Mark and Andrew, it was now time for the main event.
It will come as no surprise to any regular readers of my blogs, that the theatre was absolutely full, with expectant Geordies ready for the 11th successive year of father and son team Clive Webb & Danny Adams.
The show was absolutely sensational, it was just over two hours of fast paced madness. How they keep coming up with bigger and better ideas year after year is beyond me. I would say that this show was a bit different to previous years, in that there was a greater emphasis on visual gags as opposed to just jokes. For example, the now infamous Camera Scene, was more about visuals on the screen this year, than spoken word.
Given that the show has 7 weeks to run, I don't want to post too many spoilers, but let's just say there are some "EPIC" jokes, and the audience get VERY involved. If you haven't yet purchased your tickets, you may want to consider the Circle as opposed to the Stalls. Unless you like Rodents, Water and Electric shocks!!!
This is a very physically demanding show for Danny this year and less than a week in, he is already showing his war wounds! I was completely warn out watching him, so how he does it for 2 shows a day, I can't imagine. His trampolining scene is not only extremely funny, but breathtakingly impressive.
One thing that really pleased me this year, was Danny's talented brother Mick was given some really good stage time, and some of the funniest moments in the show. He is a real crowd pleaser, and had us all screaming with laughter.
Clive Webb continues to defy his years with his high energy performance. He and Danny just work so well together!
Chris Hayward, again provided Newcastle with a sensationally glamorous Dame. He or should that be SHE, even managed to look amazing at the bottom of the Ocean, after the Boat had been sunk.
Steve Arnott had again been completely transformed, this year into the Evil and Wicked King Rat. His transformation was almost as spectacular as his performance.
If this wasn't a talented enough cast already, this year the "A Team" was joined by the wonderful Charlie Hardwick as the Spirit of the Tyne. Her performance was as superb as her impressive entrance. Thankfully she had left the Dingles in Emmerdale. I wonder though if the Rat had snuck up from the farm in her back pack!
You would expect the Twins to have provided Newcastle with superb special effects and they duly obliged. A man eating Shark and a very large, very scary RAT !!!
There are so many wonderful jokes I could share with you on here, but I will resist temptation to spoil anyone's enjoyment until after the run is over, but unsurprisingly you can expect plenty of Dick Jokes, and the Teletubbies as you've never seen them before.
With all this, there was still time for a Brand New and extremely impressive 3D sequence.
So, would I recommend a trip to see this show, well maybe actions speak louder than words, and that is why I will be back up in December to see this wonderful show again!! Yet again, Qdos, Theatre Royal Newcastle, and this talented team have delivered!!
Every year I see their wonderful production, it make me more and more frustrated that I didn't get to see their sensational shows until 5 years ago!!! I don't intend to miss out again, that is for sure!!
But the end of this wonderful show, was only the half way point of this wonderful evening.
It was now time to head off to the pub to catch up with this talented cast over a well earned drink, (for them, not me!)
Given that the usual haunt was showing the Fury Boxing fight, it was a tad busy.
Thankfully, we managed to find a spare table, and awaited the arrival of the cast.
Slowly but surely, the cast arrived.
Having watched in awe this talented team in 2012, I was now so happy to be able to call these guys my friends!
It felt like a pantomime tour 2015/16 launch party, as not only did we have Clive, Danny, Mick, Steve, Chris, Amy, Charlie & the rest, we were also joined by Joe Purdy, Mark Whitney, and Andrew Ryan, and if that wasn't enough, then later in the evening, fresh from rehearsals in Darlington, we were joined by another Potts Brother ... Danny!
Danny will be donning the high heels, and terrifying poor Ashley and Pudsey, as an Ugly Sister in Darlington. Something I will hopefully catch when I head up again to watch his Dad and Brothers in action later in December.
Over the next few hours we talked about everything from hoping the fight would be over quickly, so the pub would be clear, to what to do in Vegas. The evening went so fast, before we knew it we were being invited to finish our drinks and leave the pub.
A wonderful evening and I can't wait to do it again, which is why I AM doing it all over again in a few weeks time!!!!
So after the highs of this evening, it was time to head 240 miles back down South to work, and look forward to my next adventure.
As it is still early in the season, that would be a week away, and a visit to Milton Keynes on Saturday to see Aladdin, and then afterwards catch up with another of my panto friends, Phil Holden.
I have a feeling this is going to be the best and most sociable Panto season ever!! Especially as thanks to a lovely email from another of my favourite Ugly Sisters, I can also now look forward to meeting with Ben Stock in Northampton!
Cinderella - Rotherham
Friday evening saw a short trip to Rotherham to see Cinderella.
As I write this review, some two hours after the curtain went down, my knees are still in agony, having been sat in such cramped conditions for 2 hours! I thought it rather ironic, that next year's Panto was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as the Dwarfs are probably the only ones who would have had enough leg room ! Having recently refitted the auditorium seating, its a real shame that they didn't add a bit more space to allow those taller audience members to have a little comfort.
Ok, so on to the show. Well for anyone in the audience, and to be fair, that was tonight and will be for the majority of the run, people who don't see as many pantomimes as I do each year, they will have gone home having enjoyed a really pleasant show with a good script and plenty of laughs.
Unfortunately for me, despite having not been to this show before, I felt like I had seen it before. There were certain scenes that had more than a passing resemblance to certain Qdos and FFE Cinderella's, and Buttons big ventriloquist act, was almost word for word, the wonderful act Paul Zerdin does with his audience dummy, apart from in this performance the victim chose the name Susan instead of Tracy!
It won't surprise readers who know what a huge fan I am of America's Got Talent winner.. Paul Zerdin to know, he does it much much better!!
At one point, I half expected Buttons to pull Sam out of his bag!!
For the £11 ticket price, it represented good enough value, but more reliance on original material would have made the show far better.
I am not talking about the usual "9 carrots" jokes that are in every Cinderella, but some specific jokes that appeared to come directly from other comics previous shows.
Now I know that every pantomime picks on an "unlucky" punter for a few laughs, but this show did seem to rely on a lot of their laughs coming from the victim for the night, in this case Kieran.
Absolutely, let the Dame / Sisters have a bit of fun with someone, but in this show, it seemed there was a reference to Kieran in every scene. To be fair, he should have asked for some appearance money. Have some fun by all means, but know when enough is enough and find another way to raise a laugh.
At least I had the chance to meet up with my fellow Panto Friend, Joe Purdy, who will be helping me judge the awards later on in January. Joe had been in Sheffield this afternoon, but was under strict instructions to reveal NOTHING about the show, as I look forward to seeing it on Sunday, and catching up with Damian and Hilary afterwards.
As he heads over to Blackpool for his Saturday panto fix, I will be heading south to Milton Keynes, to watch their Star Studded Aladdin.
Aladdin - Milton Keynes
I always enjoy a visit to Theatre MK. It's a lovely modern theatre, where parking is easy, and they always decorate the front of house in the theme of the show. I am expecting to walk into Peking tomorrow, or the Cave of Delights!
I am also looking forward to catching up with my good friend, Phil Holden after the show, once he has "restored" law and order to the streets of Peking, in his role as PC Pong.
Unfortunately, he won't be assisted this year by his son Paddy, who has decided school work and GCSE preparations are far more important that running around on stage for 6 weeks!! Whilst an admirable decision, I do hope we will see him back on stage with his dad in a couple of years time, once exams are over!!
In the meantime we could enjoy his dad, arriving on stage with a white sheet over his head. Well he was undercover after all!!
FFE's Milton Keynes Aladdin had a star studded cast, and they all delivered!! This was a wonderful show, backed up by a refreshed Eric Potts super script.
We were treated to Ben Adams wonderful Aladdin, Gary Wilmots superb Twankey, and Wayne Sleep was excellent as the Genie of the Ring. If that wasn't enough we had superstar Priscilla Presley as the Genie of the Lamp, and the wonderful Phil Holden as PC Pong, and Marc Pickering in his panto debut was simply sensational as Abanazer, but for the me, the real star of the show was Kev Orkian.
He was absolutely fantastic, and had the entire audience in stitches from the first minute he arrived on stage as the hapless Wishee Washee, until he exited the stage at the end of the show.
Kev just knows what's the audience wants, and he gives it them in bucketfuls. Everyone loved him, well apart from the poor lady on the second row who he picked on for being UGLY!!
It really is no surprise to know that Kev is loved all over the world, and it was such a delight to enjoy his performance in pantomime again this year.
Marc Pickering as Abanazer was given a brilliant script, and he delivered in style. I know various Directors have been trying to persuade this talented actor to tred the panto boards for years now, and it was easy to see why with this performance.
We all know Ben Adams is an excellent singer, as his performance here showed it,but he is also an excellent Actor, and delivered a wonderful performance as Aladdin. At times is can be easy to make Aladdin rather annoying, but not when Ben is portraying the character.
Casting Phil Holden as PC Pong was a magnificent decision, as he was absolutely fantastic. Phil is a talented actor, but trust me when I say, I don't see him getting a job with Group 4 anytime soon!! He was useless at trying to stop Aladdin causing mischief!
We were also treated to the wonderful talents of Aimie Atkinson as Princess Jasmine. I have been lucky enough to see this wonderful actress on a number of occasions, and she always shines. Tonight was no exception.
This pantomime was full of great jokes, and the wonderful Eric Potts has obviously been hard at work all year creating this wonderful script.
We were treated to a great joke at the expense of the MK Dons... Aladdin delivering clean washing to the Stadium MK, as the "MK Dons wanted at least one clean sheet this season".
Or Abanazer talking to the Genie remarked, "When I'm on stage, I do the laughing" the reply from the brilliant Wayne Sleep ..."Well it's not the audience"!
We were also treated to two of my favourite scenes, "Mr Who, What, I Don't Know" and "If I was not upon the stage" both were expertly delivered to plenty of laughs!
When worried about how they were going to get to Egypt to rescue the Princess, Wishee remarked that as we were in Panto "when we walk off, and come back on, we will be there".
Before the show was over, we were also treated to a very funny Balloon Act!
This was a sensational show, and one I will hopefully get to watch again before the end of its run.
After the show, it was a chance to pop backstage, meet this talented cast, and then have a lovely catch up with Phil Holden. It was also a delight that Wayne Sleep joined us.
It had been a truly wonderful evening, and I will look forward to seeing this wonderful show again before its run ends!
From MK Peking, it was off to Sheffield Peking, and Evolution Patomimes Aladdin at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield
Aladdin - Sheffield
I was really excited to see this show. It had the reigning www.pantoinsider.com Dame of the Year.. Damian Williams, and the www.pantoinsider.com reigning Best Female Baddie, the amazing Hilary O'Neil. Although this year she has left the dark side, to become a goodie, as the Spirit of the Ring.
They were joined by the excellent Chris Gascoyne as Abanazer, who very early in the show was encouraged to Rub Tutankamens Ring!
Chris was exceptional as Abanazer, and I felt the script he was given this year, played to his talents as an Actor far more than last years Jack & The Beanstalk script had in Birmingham.
Thanks to Paul Hendy's brilliance, we were able to see the talented Actor mesmerise the sell out crowd. Indeed, if I had one criticism of Chris' performance, it would be he was so good, you just didn't want to Boo him!
Whilst Cheryl Cole, Tess Daley, Joe Pasquale and Catherine Tate weren't on the Bill, you would never of known that, as thanks to the vocal talents of Hilary O'Neil, everyone in the auditorium thought they were there! Not only can this talented lady deliver such wonderful impressions, but she doesn't half have a set of pipes on her! Some of her musical solos were simply sensational. I would love to watch her perform an entire show. She is simply spectacular, and has to be an early front runner to be Best Fairy / Guardian in this years awards.
Then we come on to the man, or should that be Superman who has become Sheffield's favourite Fat Bloke in a Dress! This was the brilliant Damian Williams 8th panto in Sheffield, and thankfully he has already signed up for a 9th year in 2016/17. I and the entire Panto going population of Sheffield hope that becomes his 10th, 11th, 12th, 30th year!
Whilst there might be the "Legendary Lyceum Ghost Bench Scene", even more Legendary is Damian Williams. I refer to him as a Vintage Wine, he just gets better year after year after year. Not sure how He and Paul Hendy keep doing it, but thankfully they do!
As well as these wonderful performances, we were also treated to Giant Mummies, and a flying magic carpet.
There were jokes a plenty. I enjoyed Widow Twankey telling us how she had been Blackberry Picking, in Carphone Warehouse.
The Lyceum moved into the 21st Century as a Camera and Screen were used to find Twankey her boyfriend. This was actually going to produce one of the funniest moments of the night!
A poor chap called Ian was the "lucky" recipriant of Twankey's lust.
Unfortunately, poor Twankey was so taken aback with her catch, she completely forgot his name, and came out in the second half shouting for Shaun! "Silence" As a synical pantomime viewer, I was convinced this was a rehearsed mistake! I was to find out later it wasn't, and that made it even funnier. Thankfully Twankey's son, Wishee Washee, played by the excellent Alex Winters reminded our Dame, of her boyfriends real name!!
We spent time in the ancient city of "Won Lon Poo" which was a "bit of a dump"!
The Dame was not so sure about Abanazer, and revealed for an extra £10 they could have had Ken Barlow!
As you would expect there were plenty of references to Chris' alter ego, Peter Barlow from Corrie, but there was also plenty of opportunity for him demonstrate his talented acting skills, whilst being more than prepared to be the butt of the others jokes.
We enjoyed Widow Twankey's Underwear Rap, and a Sheffield First with the Twelve Days of Christmas. How I wished Phil Holden was Pong in this show though! Only because he had hunted me out the night before to soak me, (thankfully failing) and this Pong got a faceful of custard pies, every time we reached no 5 in the song!
We of course had the compulsory Ghost Bench Scene, and more and more jokes.
I think my favourite being when Widow Twankey remarked "I remember my wedding day, my father gave me away, he stood up and shouted 'he's a bloke".
With this wonderful show about to come to an end, we were treated to the most spectacular ending. What was it? You are going to have to get a ticket and see for yourself. Trust me, it will be worth it!! If not, I may just let you know at the end of the run, as I don't want to spoil it whilst this sensational show is still running.
I may also have photographic evidence to share after 4th January 2016!!
Ever since Evolution led by the wonderful Paul Hendy and Emily Wood started producing pantomimes at the Lyceum, they have ensured Sheffield has been treated to a sensational show, and they have done it again this year.
Luckily, I will be seeing another 5 Evolution shows this year, and if they are half as good as this show then I am in for a real treat!!
After this wonderful show, I was then able to enjoy a drink with the talented cast.
It was great to meet Chris Gascoyne and Ieuan Rhys, as well as catch up with old friends Damian and Hilary! We had a lovely time, and I completely forgot I had a 2 hour drive ahead of me after our catch up, ready to be in work in the morning. The truth was I didn't care, I was having such a great time. A very talented and friendly bunch. I am already looking forward to Damian's 9th year, looking after Snow White!
So having seen FFE and Evolution's Aladdin, it is only fitting that next up its Qdos Aladdin, followed by PHA's Aladdin in Derby! Yes 4 Aladdin's in a Row ! Thank goodness for a Peter Pan on Saturday afternoon. Although if Christian has rewritten it, and moved the lost boys to live in Peking as opposed to Never Land I won't be best pleased lol. :-)
So having been unable to find a panto close enough to work to get to see before Friday, I will have to wait till then to catch Christopher Biggins, Simon Webbe and the man who always makes me laugh Ben Nickless in Nottingham.
Friday finally arrived, and I could enjoy my panto fix for the day. That said, whilst I may not have been seeing any panto's since last weekend, I have been talking about them with various BBC researchers ahead of potential articles on their website and on 5 Live. As things stand, I am due to talk all things Panto on Christmas Eve at around 11.15pm.
Aladdin - Nottingham
So as I settled into my seat, I was looking forward to my first Qdos visit to Peking this season. I had already seen Evolutions, and FFE's and will be seeing PHA's on Saturday morning!
The stars of the show were Blue's Simon Webbe, Panto Dame Legend Christopher Biggins and the man who had entertained Nottingham for the past two years, returning for his third, the brilliant Ben Nickless.
As you would hope and expect all three really delivered. Although I am not sure Simon will be taking Wishee Washee's new song "One Glove" on tour with Blue next year!
Biggins was given some absolutely fantastic costumes to wear. They were simply spectacular. Absolutely stunning. I pity any other Dame hoping to win the Best Dame Outfit awards this year, as you have some serious competition. He even sported not just "Any Dress, but an M&S Dress".
There were some interesting twists on this classic tale, including Wishee Washee joining his brother Aladdin in the cave!! But my favourite (although it wouldn't have been if it was me) was some poor audience victim being invited to visit Widow Twankey's laundry, and having his shirt taken from him, and washed !! At least he was loaned a kimono to keep him warm until the shirt was returned, along with a gift voucher at the end of the show.
Biggins is a panto legend, and it's not difficult to see why with the wonderful performance and delightful dresses. Unlike some Dames, he changed his outfit every time he came on, with each one getting better and better as the evening went on. He even came floating in from the ceiling for his grand finale.
For me though the star of the show, was the brilliant Ben Nickless. When you return to a venue, the pressure is on to be bigger and better than the previous year. Ben duely obliged. It's not hard to see why this talented entertainer is seen as one of the stars of the next generation of Pantomime greats.
His jokes came thick and fast, and he threw in some excellent impressions to boot. I won't get to see the real Joe Pasquale this year, as he is all the way down in Southampton, but thanks to Hilary O'Neil and Ben Nickless, I do feel like I have spent a few moments with another pantomime great.
This was a really enjoyable show, and I know I and the rest of the Nottingham crowd hope we will see Ben Nickless back at the Theatre Royal Nottingham next year.
After the show there was a chance for a quick catch up with this talented team, before they headed back to their Digs and I headed back to mine, ready to recharge the batteries ahead of another trip to Peking in the morning, this time just down the road in Derby.
Aladdin - Derby
It certainly felt too early to be at a panto, but we were definitely back in Peking, in the shape of the new Derby Arena, for the PHA take on Aladdin.
So let's start with the negatives, none of which had anything to do with this talented cast.
I didn't like the venue for a pantomime. I felt it was too big / industrial. You just didn't feel part of the show, even though they tried very hard to overcome this with some clever routines and an excellent script.
I also felt that for such a huge stage, the set was very minimalistic and didn't do the show justice. If you had put this show in a standard theatre with say an FFE set, it would have turned this into an amazing show.
But as I said, the negatives were not the fault of the excellent cast, or wonderful script or excellent direction.
Derby panto veterans know all about Mike McClean, and as they would have expected, he was absolutely fantastic. His one liners came thick and fast, and he certainly had some of the best one liners in the show.
The Chinese Policemen played by Joseph Elliot and Richard David Caine were simply brilliant. They were very funny, delivered a sensational performance and showed just how important Chemistry is to deliver a fantastic show.
But there was only one star of this show, the sensational Leon Craig as Widow Twankey. This talented actor stole every scene he was in.
He was extremely funny, had an amazing voice, and delivered some hysterical lines. Although I don't think my admiration for this talented star was shared with the poor chap who was made to perform Old McDonald, with actions at 10.50am !!
Leon finishes in Aladdin, as Twankey, and heads to the West End to star in Disney's Muscial Aladdin early next year, where he plays the Genie. Something that was touched upon when Wishee Washee was being rude to him/her!
Twankey responded with "How very dare you, I'm in the West End next year", "Selling the Big Issue" came the response.
Mark my words, Leon Craig has got a seriously big future ahead of him, and I hope that he can be tempted back into Pantoland again next year. It is a real joy to have a new entry deliver a performance that will more than likely lead to a nomination for Best Dame in this years Pantoinsider.com awards.
We were also treated to an innovative take on Mr Who, What and I Don't Know, and one of the funniest Ghost Scenes I have ever seen. I mean seriously, when the Dame loses her wig, do you really expect the Ghost to help her put it back on? Or come back out wearing it!
You certainly got value for money, this was a very long panto. Maybe a little long in the first half for the little ones, but I am not sure what you could cut as it was all so funny.
A very entertaining morning, and well worth the early start!
From Derby, it was time to head over to Stoke. It was time to see the one show I was most excited about seeing this Panto season.
Peter Pan - Stoke
Christian Patterson had been tasked with making Peter Pan a funny pantomime. IMPOSSIBLE, well maybe to most, but when your name is Christian Patterson, nothing is impossible.
I genuinely don't think words have been created to describe this show. Sensational doesn't do it justice.
We were fortunate enough to find ourselves sitting next to Michelle McTernan, otherwise known as Christian's better half! It was lovely to catch up with this wonderful lady, and great friend.
This is a brand new show making its debut this pantomime season in Stoke. It has been written by Christian Patterson, and he directs it alongside his co star Jonny Wilkes.
Jonny celebrates his 10th Anniversary in Stoke Panto, and I don't think he could have chosen a better show to do it with.
I am not going to share the jokes on this blog, for two reasons, one, the show still runs until 3rd January 2016, and two, If I was to, I would pretty much have to type out the entire script. Seriously I was crying with laughter for the entire two plus hours.
This Pan was different to every Pan you will have ever seen before, played out by an incredibly talented cast.
Christian's performance of Captain Hook was without doubt one of the greatest pantomime performances I have EVER seen.
Trust me when I say, you have never seen a Captain Hook portrayed in this way, but once you have, you would never want to see it any other way ever again.
I'm crying with laughter again now just thinking of some of the scrapes Hook got himself into with Smee, portrayed by the genius that is Jonny Wilkes.
How to capture Pan? Go undercover of course!!! How... You will need to go to Stoke to find out, or come back to the blog once the show finishes and I share some of the funniest moments with you.
What also stood out in this show was just how talented the ENTIRE cast were. Jonny and his wife Nicky have set up the Wilkes Academy to help train the stars of tomorrow. It felt like their Valedictorian's were all in this show. Shannon Paul Lane was exceptional as Peter Pan, and Yazmin Wood a sensational Wendy. Even the Lost Boys were out of this world, especially the young actor playing Tibbs! So much talent on one stage.
If that wasn't enough genius on stage, there was still room for Amanda Coutts who was breathtaking as Tinkerbell.
YES, I apologise I am running out of new innovative adjectives to describe this show and cast.
Sometimes, you need to doff your hat, and bow down to brilliance and tonight was one of those nights! I wish I could type the words to give this show the justice it deserves but I can't. I just can't.
This was the greatest Pantomime Script I have ever seen performed. It has moved into my no 2 spot for the greatest pantomime I have ever seen. I don't think anything will ever top Sleeping Beauty in Newcastle in 2012 but boy this goes damn close.
There is one part of the show I will share with you before it closes, but only because it definitely wasn't scripted, and you could tell that by the look on Jonny's Face!
Growing up, I remembered a science show called "Jonny Ball reveals all". Well tonight we nearly had its sequel, "Jonny's Ball revealed to all"!
Yes, at an absolutely crucial part of the performance, Jonny Wilkes had a rather unfortunate wardrobe malfunction, as jumping to get on his Mastermind Chair, he did a rather over excited jump and split his trousers right down the front. He face was a picture, Michelle, Ant and I were dying of laughter. I turned to Michelle to check it wasn't a scripted mistake, the look on her face said it all, this was definitely not in the script.
Jonny quickly grabbed a towel to prevent a Basic Instinct moment, and then shoved his jacket through the gap to prevent the audience getting an eyeful, during his big number with Hook!
Of course, Christian took full advantage of his co-stars embarrassing situation, and the look on Tinkerbell's face when she saw what had happened was priceless.
This was very much the icing on the cake of this wonderful show.
It would also be amiss of me not to mention a really magical part of tonight's show, and that was the beautiful 5 year old Frankie who joined Jonny on stage to perform Music Man. Frankie has been battling Leukemia, and looked fantastic as she came on stage to help play guitar. Pantoinsider sends her all our love!!
In the interview I did for the BBC the other day, I said Newcastle, Stoke and Sheffield never fail. Having now seen these 3 immense shows this season, I feel fully vindicated in my opinion.
5 years ago, I stood outside with a larger numbers of people waiting for Jonny and Christian to come outside to get their autographs.
Today, I class these two amazing guys as friends, and I couldn't be more proud of what my friends delivered tonight. They know better than anyone that if I didn't like the show I would tell them, but trust me when I tell you, this was a show you CAN'T Miss, and yes of course, somehow, I WILL see this show again this year, I can't not! I've already put in an order for the DVD when they get it.
Its nearly 1am as I complete the blog for tonight, and I am still buzzing from this amazing night.
That said, I guess I should try to get to bed, as I am off to see another Panto buddy tomorrow, Chris Nelson in Aylesbury!!
So to sign off for this evening in they style of Frankie Valli... "Oh What A Night!"
Dick Whittington - Aylesbury
Next up was a trip to Aylesbury, to see another good friend of mine, Chris Nelson, who, not content with playing Alderman Fitzwarren, and the Sultan was also Directing this show. He was joined by
Aylesbury favourite, the brilliant Andy Collins.
Knowing how Chris was battling to save his voice, and Andy had hurt his knee, you could have been forgiven for thinking this was going to be more Casualty than Dick Whittington!
There was no need to worry, ever the consummate professionals, you would never have known that these two were battling through various ailments, as they delivered an absolutely faultless performance.
Whilst Aylesbury may not have the biggest budget in the world, it had a fantastically talented cast, who under the skilful direction of Chris Nelson put on a brilliantly entertaining show.
There was no shortage of singing talent either, We all know X Factor Winner Sam Bailey has a magnificent voice, but she was joined by another X Factor star, Melanie Masson, who also delivered some sensational singing performances.
This talented cast were supported, with some of the students from the Wilkes Academy, and just as they had the previous night in Stoke, they did their teachers proud.
We were also treated to the wonderful Jason Sutton as Sarah the Cook, I had really enjoyed his Twankey last year in Woking, and he gave another wonderful performance here. Although I am not sure his lullaby would have sent anyone to sleep, more give them nightmares!
The show was fast paced, funny, and kept the audience entertained throughout. The crowd especially enjoyed Idle Jack's entrance. VT of him visiting all the key locations in Aylesbury, before entering through the auditorium to huge cheers!
As you would expect from Dick Whittington, there were plenty of innuendos. My favourite was when Idle Jack asked "Does Alice Fancy Dick Already?". I can't answer that came the reply.
Aylesbury's big scene is always the 12 Days of Christmas, and my biggest criticism in previous years had been that nothing ever "went wrong". Well thanks to Chris Nelson sending the Toilet Rolls throughout the Auditorium, we were treated to the funniest 12 Days so far this season.
Up until the 11th Day of Christmas, I had been enjoying the show, cheering Dick and Alice on with their quest to beat the evil Queen Rat, but on day 12, that all changed.
Having friends in the show can be very good, apart from when the "*&^&%^ds are armed with Water Pistols and know EXACTLY where you are seated!!!!
Yes, after Day 12, I was suddenly routing for the Excellent Queen Rat to defeat the Nasty Idle Jack and Sultan, and banish them to the sewers!
On the plus side, I didn't need a shower on returning to the hotel!!
This was probably the best Pantomime I had seen in Aylesbury, a thoroughly enjoyable show, played out by a talented cast, and a well worked script!!
Afterwards it was time to pop back and kick Andy in the knee ! (Revenge) and hide Chris' Strepsils!!
No, it was lovely to catch up with these great guys, friends and actors, and thank them for the wonderful entertainment they had given us over the past two hours!!
From Aylesbury, it was time to go back to work for a few days, before making the short journey to Northampton, to see Cinderella.
Cinderella - Northampton
I have to say, I believe that Qdos deliver the most Magical Cinderella of all the companies, and they didn't let me down with this wonderful show.
The cast was led by the talented John Partridge, as the Prince Charming. It was my third time seeing John in Panto, and for me this was his finest performance to date. His singing excellent, and he was more than happy to make a joke or two at his own expense.
His partner in crime was the brilliant Sid Sloane, as Dandini. I had seen Sid in Sheffield a few years ago, and enjoyed his performance there, so it was no surprise to see him deliver again in this show. I especially enjoyed his rendition of "If the Shoe Fits" where he went into the audience to try the slipper on various audience members.
Ben Stock is always a wonderful Ugly Sister, and yet again he delivered a wonderful performance alongside Bobby Delaney. Indeed the Sisters had some of the funniest scenes in the show. They made a wonderful entrance to "Raining Men". Before Singing and Stripping Prince Charming to "Wrapped Up".
They also provided wonderful entertainment with Sid Sloane with the Mr Who, What, I Don't Know scene.
This talented cast were also joined by Alison Jiear, and her wonderful voice. Indeed her duet with John Partridge singing "When You Believe" was one of the most magical moments of the night. Both had some set of pipes on them !! Absolutely sensational.
But with all this talent, there was still room for one more superstar. Well I say 1, but actually 18! although all performed by the same person!
As a big fan of Britain's Got Talent, I was really looking forward to seeing Danny Posthill. He was once of my favourites in the last season and he didn't let me down.
He was absolutely Sensational!
For the record, we were treated to, Billy Connolly, John Bishop, Gary Barlow, David Beckham, Michael McIntyre, Alan Carr, Keith Lemon, Paddy McGuiness, Peter Dixon, The voice of Big Brother, Bobby Davao, Joe Pasquale, Lee Evans, Ant & Dec, Sarah Millican, Jonny Vegas, and my personal favourite, Arsene Wenger, singing the Circle of Life.
Buttons did advise us that he hoped to get to the Royal Variety performance one day, but not this year as he couldn't impersonate a dog! Trust me on this performance, he should have won, and not the dog!!
John Partridge, Danny Posthill and Rachel Flynn (the wonderful Cinderella) combined to deliver without doubt the BEST WALL Scene I have ever seen, and I've seen a few! It was fantastic, and had everyone laughing.
Of course, it wasn't all happiness. Poor Buttons was rejected by Cinderella, and then saw the dreaded Four Red X's appear above his head, prompting him to wonder if Simon Cowell was in that night!
Well don't worry Buttons, on tonights performance, you must be in with a chance of a nomination at least for the www.pantoinsider.com Awards 2015/16.
This had been a wonderful show, and now I had the chance to meet up with one of the best Ugly Sisters in the business, (as well as being a sensational singer and actor) Ben Stock. It was lovely to finally meet Ben, and I look forward I hope to seeing him again next year, wherever that may be!
So now I am 10 shows in, and so far, its shaping up to be a fantastic season. This weekend I will visit shows 11,12 & 13. Unlucky 13 being the mega budget Arena Show in Birmingham. I am really excited for what the weekend has in store!!
The big question would be, where could show 11 be. I needed to be working from home until 5pm, so it had to be somewhere I could realistically make in an hour and a half.
Cinderella - Manchester
As you will know, if you have reached this point, that I don't like to go for realistic timescales. Of course Manchester to Sheffield at 10.30pm will take an hour or so, but the opposite way in rush hour.. well lets just say my backside hit the chair with seconds to spare!!
I will be honest, I have enjoyed Manchester for the last 5 years, but the main reason for that had always been Tam Ryan. Despite his appalling taste in which football team he supports, he is an excellent entertainer, and I was one of the many disappointed that he wouldn't be entertaining me at this lovely venue this Christmas season.
So disappointed in fact, that I booked to visit him in Bolton, on Christmas Eve, which had traditionally been my slot for the Opera House.
But there was this underlying thought in my mind, I wonder what Manchester will be like. very different I expect, but HOW different.
Then, I remembered that the fabulous Eloise Davies, who had been a magnificent Wicked Queen in Richmond last year was going to be starring as Cinderella, I decided that was reason enough to find out.
SO yes, the show WAS VERY different, but spectacular and wonderful all the same.
Of course the show centred around the Fairy Godparents, after all they were Torvill and Dean, but then, of course it should.
This was a very spectacular show, and it won't surprise anyone, to read that Jayne and Chris were absolutely sensational. Their impressive Bolero routine, resulted in a well deserved standing ovation.
Eric had also given the pair some wonderful lines.
Chris telling Jayne not to "Over do the acting" (when pretending to be the old lady in the forest), "It's not Downton Abbey"
Or when bemoaning that "No one listen's to us, it's just like Todd Carty all over again"
Whilst Jayne & Chris may have been the "Stars" of the show, there were some fantastic performances from the rest of the cast.
Eloise Davies shone as Cinderella, I think she is much more suited to the princess role, than that of a baddie. Her beautiful voice delighting the crowd.
Liam Doyle was excellent as Prince Charming, a role he reprised from last year's Cinderella in Wimbledon.
Samuel Homes was sensational as Dandini. The role was perfectly written for him, and he just excelled.
There were a few funny scenes, but in the most part, this show was filled with Show Stopping Singing and Sensational Choreography. But then, you need to play up to the strengths of the cast, and as you would expect, the wonderful Eric Potts did exactly that! He isn't one of the most respected writers in Pantoland for nothing!!
So for the million dollar question, Did they miss Tam? Well my honest opinion is YES!
Although Buttons was a much smaller role this year, for the obvious reasons, I did feel it lacked that little bit of comic edge that Tam delivers.
Don't get me wrong, I loved the show, thought the cast were excellent, was mesmerised by Torvill and Dean, and enchanted by the wonderful Cinderella, Prince Charming and Dandini. I just felt we were a "Hey Up Me Chuckie Eggs" away from perfection.
So having seen another of Eric's scripts, next up its time to see the man himself. Although of course we will be seeing his alter feminine ego, Sarah the Cook, as she helps steer Dick Whittington on in his quest to destroy King Rat!
Dick Whittington - Liverpool
Yes after 12 hours at home, it's another trip across the Pennines, for show number 12, and Liverpool Empire's Dick Whittington.
Before you ask, readers of last years blog ... NO NO NO NO NO I am NOT tempted to go to the Epstein's panto in the afternoon. I am still getting nitemares from last years !!
So I made it to Liverpool, and felt it was quite fitting, we were seeing Dick Whittington, as thanks to the weather, I felt like a drowned sewer rat on arriving at the theatre.
This was another excellent show, Eric Potts for me is one of the Best Dame's out there, and he never lets you down with his faultless performance. As in previous years, the crowd loving his
swimsuit routine, after the crew have been drowned.
This show was ideal for the capacity audience in Liverpool, who hadn't seen this Dick Whittington before. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the show, having recently watched last years Bristol show on iTunes, the show was very similar. It felt like I was seeing an old friend, rather than making a new one.
Obviously, I am a freak, having seen this show so many times, so I have a different view from those seeing it for the first time.
I thought Sally Lindsay was excellent, my only criticism would be I would have preferred to see her on stage more!
Leanne Campbell was also an excellent Alice!
Now I know its pantoland, and therefore everything should end in a draw, but I am going to be controversial. In the battle of the two FFE Dicks, I did prefer Aylesbury over Liverpool.
I thought the standards of both casts were extremely high, but Aylesbury just had the edge in more areas than Liverpool. That said, as wonderful as Jason was as Sarah, you can't beat Eric in that role!
Don't get me wrong, both shows were excellent, and I really enjoyed them both, but people ask me for an honest opinion, so there you have it!! Liverpool 0 - Aylesbury 1.
Cinderella - Birmingham
Talking of honest opinions, next up was the WORLDS BIGGEST PANTOMIME, at the Barclaycard Arena.
What would that be like? Well before I was to find out, there was a chance to pop backstage and catch up with one of the busiest men in Pantoland, the wonderful Eric Potts. It was lovely to catch up with this talented Actor, as last year I had watched his performance some 300 miles away in a Cinema in Teeside! and therefore missed our annual catch up. He really has to be one of the nicest people you could wish to meet, as well as being a sensational actor. I just love all the different voices he gives Sarah the Cook. Especially his "scuse me!"
So on Sunday, we headed down the M6 to Birmingham, ready for the all new Arena Pantomime.
Well first off, before I even entered the venue, there was time for a first, the first time I had ever been frisked going into a pantomime.
This show was billed as the Worlds Biggest Pantomime, and my headline would be Bigger isn't always Better!
I couldn't say I didn't enjoy the show, because I did, but I really hope this format isn't the future of pantomimes, and that other leading companies won't turn their back on traditional theatres for these big soul less arenas!
I was sat on the third row, but I still didn't feel part of this at times wonderful, at other times woeful show!
So what did I like?
Well, I thought Dick and Dom were absolutely brilliant. I was really surprised I hadn't seem them in Panto before. They worked the room really well, and were the bright sparks of this performance for me. I really enjoyed their parts in the show, although I did think they needed to shout out Bogeys far more than they did lol!
I liked their arrival on horseback, very impressive, as was Cinderella riding through the audience in her horse drawn carriage, on her way to the Royal Ball.
I am also a big fan of Bradley Walsh, and I enjoyed his performance, even if a lot of it was similar to last year in Milton Keynes when he played Smee!
I do need to comment though on his costume. It was the first performance of the show, yet it was absolutely filthy.
I liked the circus acts, which were very spectacular, BUT, they felt as though they had been forced into the show. There was no real reason for them to be there in the story. Personally, if they had wanted to have Circus acts in the show, I would have used the Entertainment at the Royal Ball as a way of introducing them, instead we got some Bollywood Dancing. I am sure Bollywood Dancing is excellent, but I haven't come across it in panto before.
So, what didn't I like?
Lets start with the venue and the set. The venue is far too big to stage a panto. People don't feel part of the show. I didn't and I was 3 rows from the stage, slap bang in the centre. I felt that I was looking up at the show, rather than being part of the panto, a feeling you get in the majority of theatres.
The set was terrible. An outline of a castle, with a big video screen in the middle. The stage was far too empty. You need a real moving set to create the magic of panto. Plus the set was static for the entire show.
The audience had to spend far too long wearing 3D glasses. Not only that, but there were a number of occasions where we weren't told to take the glasses off, and the next instruction some 10 minutes later, to put the glasses back on, were met with a puzzled look, as we'd never taken them off!"
In the 3D transformation scene, one of the 3D Characters was hidden behind the one prop that had been taken on to the stage, the table in the kitchen.
This was a big production of Cinderella, and that surely calls for Big Ugly Sisters. Sisters with Big Costumes, Big Personalities, and experience of this demanding role.
It's not like there is a shortage of BRILLIANT sisters out there! What we got were two radio DJ's who looked like they had been shoved in a cheap Primark Dress and told to get out on stage. I dont think it's an exaggeration to say they were the WORST Ugly Sisters, I have ever seen. Such a shame for such a Mega budget show. The costumes were also really disappointing.
This felt more like A Night at the London Palladium (albeit live from an Arena) than a Panto. The scenes were very disjointed, and it passed over some of the key scenes expected in Cinderella.
For example when the Uglies try on the Crystal Slipper, there wasn't a fake leg to be seen.
The ghost scene with a 3D snake wasn't great, and I had seen FFE do a 3D Ghost Scene so much better!
Again, the singalong at the end was very much a show, rather than involving the audience in the pantomime. There were no kids on stage, no big screen with song words, just Bradley and Paul O Grady doing battle on stage.
For such a big panto, I thought we may have got a 12 days of Christmas, or an If I was Not upon the stage, but nothing!
All we got was a magic horse who could "talk", the same magic horse, who I have seen numerous times at Qdos Cinderella's a long time ago!
As one of the most expensive pantomime tickets out there, I struggle to justify its price tag. Although compared to the £5 programme, it was value for money. The programme was embarrassing!
I had huge expectations, but with the exception of Dick & Dom, and Bradley Walsh, I was left disappointed. If I was the Birmingham Hippodrome, I wouldn't be worried!! I expect Aladdin to be much better when I see it on 31st December, as well as it being 20-25% cheaper.
Yes, I will give Snow White and the Genting another try next year, but I think they have a lot to learn and improve on, if this is to take off. Enjoyable in parts, but nowhere near as spectacular and as wonderful as it could and should have been!
One of the biggest challenges at this time of year for the Actors and Actress' is to avoid the dreaded cold/flu. Given that I could feel a runny nose coming on, and a bit of a sore throat, I felt it best to avoid heading back to Stoke, and passing on the germs to Jonny and Christan, and instead suffer quietly at the back of a theatre somewhere en route to the North East, where I would be heading on Wednesday morning.
Dick Whittington - York
I realised I could just about get to York in time for their 7.30 start, leaving home at 5, once I had finally finished work for the festive break.
I knew that the Theatre Royal was in the middle of a refurb, so was interested to see where this years pantomime extravaganza was to be held. The answer was the small, but superb Signal Box Theatre.
I wish I was allowed to take photos during the show, because words will not do justice to the sensational staging and set that adjourned this show. Maybe this sort of production would have made the Arena shows much better.
No one had a bad seat, and the two sides of the theatre watched this wonderful show take place in the middle on a moving stage.
It had to be one of the most impressive stagings of a show I have ever seen.
Not only was the way the show was staged impressive, the set was simply breathtaking, and I can't believe it won't earn at least a nomination for the pantoinsider awards at the end of next month.
The big question was would the show live up to the sensational setting and set, and the answer was a resounding YES !
Whilst the cast of this great show may not be household names outside of York, it doesn't stop them putting on a wonderful show.
Berkick Keller was magnificent as the Dame, and ensured he had some wonderful costumes to boot.
He was supported by other "old" favourites, including Martin Barrass, in his dual roles, ensuring he won't need to worry about burning off the Christmas Cake Calories this year. I was tired watching him, let alone having to do it twice a day for nearly two months!!
David Leonard was so good as Baddie Herman Vermin you didn't want to boo him!
Suzy Cooper, Vincent Gray, AJ Powell and Harry Hughes completed this talented cast.
This was a highly original take on the story of Dick Whittington, including a meerkat and the use of a jacuzzi.
We were treated to an excellent video sequence featuring Harry Gratin, and as with last year, an adaptation of a song from the Book of Mormon. Maybe next year we might see them sing Hasa Diga Eebowai !!!
There were plenty of great one liners, such as..
"Do you gamble?" " Well I work with you!"
"The audience all know that the only reason you Ad Lib is because you can't remember the words!"
and we also had a butterfly disturb the show by landing on various cast members as they drifted towards SPAIN!!!
A fabulous show, in a wonderful and unique setting.
So now it's time to get to bed and try and get rid of this cold, as there is a busy day ahead. How do I relax on my first day off work?
Why by having an interview with Toby Foster on BBC Radio Sheffield at 7.30am in the morning, driving to Teeside to spend 2 hours carrying out other interviews with other BBC Radio Stations before heading to Darlington to meet the brilliant Danny Potts for a coffee before watching him terrorise Cinderella and her dog Pudsey, and then heading up to Newcastle to see his brothers in Dick Whittington for the second time.
Feeling I was coming down with cold, the last thing I needed was to have 17 -radio interviews to work through. I had a great plan however, take plenty of Ribena into the studio with me!
There was however a flaw to my plan. One hour in, and with no time between the live link ups, I needed the loo!
Therefore if anyone was listening in, and thought I sounded rather pained, there was a very good reason for this.
By the end, I didn't care where the best panto was, more where the toilet was!
Thankfully I survived, and could head up to see Darlington.
Cinderella - Darlington
I was looking forward to seeing Danny Potts in his first role as an Ugly Sister. He told me he was nervous about taking on this iconic role, trust me, he didn't need to be. Along with his other sister Phil Corbitt they were the stars of the show for me. Oh how the Barclaycard Arena could have done with these two!
Their jokes landed every time, and they had the right amount of Terror and Comedy for it to work perfectly.
Danny illustrating that the Potts family are absolutely vital to any pantomime season!
I have seen Ashleigh and Pudsey on a number of occasions, and she grows with confidence every time, and Pudsey is just wonderful.
Brendan Sheerin is alway entertaining, and you can't beat him running around looking for his "Angel on the Top of the Tree" during the fabulous Twelve Days of Christmas they performed.
I loved the Chocolates scene and the Wall scene, and was blown away by the fantastic Dooby Ducks puppets during the Princes Ball's entertainment.
This Cinderella had it all,(apart from leg room!) and for me was a much more enjoyable pantomime experience than the Mega Cinderella I had seen earlier in the week.
If they need an Ugly Sister up the road in Newcastle next year, then if they want to support to Potts Family Retirement Fund, they could do a lot worse than getting brother Danny to join his brothers.
Talking of this brothers, it was time to head up to Newcastle to see Danny Adams, Mick Potts and dad Clive Webb for Dick Whittington round 2!
The show was as fantastic second time round as it had been the first, but given that it was the night before Xmas Eve, and I was suffering with cold, we decided to postpone the after show drinks, and just have a quick pint with Mick before heading back to the hotel.
Hopefully we will get to catch up before the end of the run.
The plan was straightforward on Christmas Eve, get up early, head to Bolton and watch Tam Ryan at the Macron Stadium in Jack and the Beanstalk. Unfortunately my car had other ideas.
Heading towards Darlington, a bright red light suddenly appeared telling me to stop immediately. Thankfully, a nearby garage managed to get me back on the road, but too late to make it to the Macron for curtain up.
Instead, I decided to head to the NHS Drop in Centre in Darlington, and get myself sorted so I was fit and healthy ready for the pantomime tour to recommence after Christmas !
Then it was off to bed, to ensure I had some voice ready for my BBC 5Live debut at 11.15pm Christmas Eve.
So until I hit the road again for Evolutions Peter Pan in St Albans, I hope you all have a very Happy Christmas!
Well what a wonderful Christmas that was, a wonderful time with family, and copious amounts of delicious food! Thanks Helen & John!!
In a change from tradition I wasn't going to be seeing a Panto on Boxing Day. Not through choice but family commitments. My brother was to be celebrating his 40th birthday on 27th so that meant a couple of surprise parties over the 26th and 27th.
But after his surprise breakfast in Central London, I took the opportunity to visit St Albans for Peter Pan en route back to Sheffield to drop my mum at home, before heading back down south for my 6 shows in 3 days.
Peter Pan - St Albans
Firstly, I must thank the wonderful staff at St Albans Arena who swopped my tickets from the 6pm performance to the 2pm performance. This made looking after mum a lot easier, and prevented me having to kill 8 hours in St Albans! Nothing against St Albans but not sure what I would have done with all the time.
So on to the show.
As readers will know, Peter Pan isn't one of my favourite shows, and this production wasn't helped by my love of Stoke's take on this show this year.
As with all Evolution shows, it was fast paced, had some great one liners, and the obligatory, but very funny props scene, but in truth, this wasn't one of the better shows I had seen, and I put that down to being tired, and having a 300 mile round trip ahead of me, on my mind.
That said, Peter Pan flying over the audience was very spectacular and was definately enjoyed by all. Bob Golding also proved yet again that Evolution really do get the best Dames in the business.
I will look forward to Snow White next year, and ensure I plan the visit when I am not going to be so tired.
So having driven mum back home, jumped in the shower, unpacked and repacked, I got back in the car and headed back down south, ending up about 10 miles from where I had been 8 hours earlier!
From here, it was a shorter journey to Dartford for the 1pm show of Dick Whittington.
Now I had hoped to be joined by my friend Joe Purdy at this point but the weather in Barrow and the demands of Jack & The Beanstalk meant I was, as usual, going to be doing this leg of the tour on my own.
Dick Whittington - Dartford
Having sorted out getting the tickets, as unfortunately Joe had the tickets for Dartford and Southend, I could sit back and enjoy the show.
For those seeing this show for the first time, which I imagine was everyone in the audience except for me, they will have absolutely loved it, it's hard not to, it's a great show.
I did however feel that it was pretty much the same show I had seen last year in High Wycombe, and those parts that were new, were also used in Newcastle.
At this point, it's important to point out, I still absolutely adored the show. Shane Richie is a perfect panto leading man and he knows just how to work his crowd.
The one scene I didn't recognise, and absolutely adored was the props scene with East Enders. Whilst I don't watch the show, I knew enough to find the scene witty and entertaining.
The set was originally used in Birmingham's Dick Whittington a few years ago, and is still a spectacular set. I did feel a tinge of sadness though when the bedroom scene came out, and I reminisced about that scene in Birmingham with Julian Clary and sadly now the Late Great Keith Harris and Orville.
That said, we were still treated to a very funny routine.
We also enjoyed a wonderful underwater puppet routine after the ship had sank, a great rendition of "If I Were Not" and a Wall Scene before this great show came to an end.
Cinderella - Southend on Sea
From Dartford, it was time to head over to Southend, I was looking forward to this show for a number of reasons, but mostly because I was FINALLY going to get to meet Martin & David, otherwise known as Tess and Claudia!
For me, no one does Cinderella better than Qdos. They make it truly magical and have the most wonderful soundtrack.
Of course, if you want a magical show, it doesn't hurt to have National Treasure Lesley Joseph as Fairy Godmother. Add one of Britain's favourite entertainers, Brian Conley and you are definately on to a winner.
Next add two of the best Sisters in Pantoland, Martin Ramsdin, and David Robbins, and this is a guaranteed hit.
Thankfully after that build up, it was!!
This show had everything, flying motorbikes, real Shetland Ponies, wonderful routines, including Southends Got Talent, (featuring a very young looking Danny Adams) a great "Wall" routine, and my favourite scene of the night, Lesley as Dorian signing Bang Bang and Like A Virgin. It was pure panto gold.
David and Martin delivered their usual flair and elegance to the Ugly Sisters. Wonderful outfits, including being dressed as the Angry Birds, and just enough malice to upset Cinderella, but not the kids in the audience.
Talking of upsetting kids in the audience, there was a fantastic line from the grumpy grandad sat in front of me before the show. Gran had gone to get the granddaughter a booster seat for her chair. The little girl having lost sight of her grandma started crying. "What's the matter", "I can't see nana" came the reply.
"Don't worry, I've been trying to lose her for 37 years and she keeps coming back".
Having watched this fantastic show, I was then lucky enough to be joining Martin and David for dinner, and got the bonus of meeting the lovely Lesley Joseph too on her way back to digs.
So for all you true panto geeks like me, we all know there is only one question we want answering this year, well fear not, I asked it ....
"Per Chance, will either of you be learning Geordie? "
Yes, we all want to know who will have the unenviable task of trying to keep Danny Adams in check next year in Newcastle Theatre Royal Cinderella.
The answer .... Big build up ..... Pause for dramatic effect .... Head for the advertising break ...
Ok enough, after all that, they don't know where they will be next year, so THE question is no closer to being answered.
Please remember, in Panto terms, this question is as big as Who Shot JR!!!
For such evil characters on stage, I don't think you could find two nicer people in real life.
What I loved was the passion they possess for panto, and the technical acumen David has for preparing his wonderful Sister.
The Nose takes over an hour to put on, and in total, David's transformation takes 2 hours! It's obviously hard work making yourself that ugly. (although the Croydon uglies probably take about 2 mins) but more on that later.
It was so entertaining, not to mention interesting listening to their recollections of previous shows, and the sparkle they both have in their eyes when they talk panto.
The meal flew by, I kept wanting to order more, not because I was hungry, but because I was having such a wonderful time.
Problem is, now I know how lovely they are in real life, how can I ever boo them again ? Sorry Cinders from now on, you shouldn't go to the ball, and you should clean up the house like your sisters demand!
A truly wonderful evening, and I hope two new good friends.
Next up was Croydon and Evolutions Cinderella.
Cinderella - Croydon
This was another great show, but with one shortcoming.
I don't know what the fascination is with Ugly Sisters with Beards, but please STOP!! We all know you're men dressed as women, but beards don't add to the comedy, they just make you looking stupid. What made it worse was seeing these "imposters" in (Sorry to all the other Sisters, who you know I adore) for me the BEST Sisters in the lands costumes.
The people next to me wondered why I kept muttering "Fairy Godmother please magic Michael Batechelor and Ian Smith up to save me!! Why have cotton when you can have silk? This was more like why have a Fiat Uno when you can have a Porche!
Right negative's over, I still absolutely loved this show.
Stephen Mulhurn is one of the best entertainers out there at the moment, and even though he was obviously fighting with a bad throat, he put on a sensational performance.
The Fairy was the real find for me, this was Lisa Davina Phillip in her first panto, and I sincerely hope it's her first of many. She was absolutely brilliant. Paul Hendy's Fairy Godmother in Cinderella I think is one of his best roles, and boy did Lisa deliver.
You could tell my view was shared by the entire crowd, given the reception she got every time she came on set.
There were a number of great scenes, including the infamous Board Games scene which always makes me laugh!
We also had one of my favourite jokes so far this season. "Rick Asterly wants to buy some of my old Disney Pixar Movies. He can have Toy Story, and Finding Nemo, but I'm never going to give you "UP". I loved that one!
This was a a fantastic show, and I am so glad I got to see it. But please, next time ensure one of the sponsors is Gillette.
From Croydon it was my first ever trip to Canterbury, and despite it being over 230 miles from home, I hope it won't be my Iast based on this evening sensational entertainment.
Snow White - Canterbury
This show really did have everything including one of the most spectacular entrances to date. Following a brilliant VT, and a massive explosion, we were then treated to Nurse Nellie's brilliant arrival. All I could think as I saw it, is I hope for Damian's sake, Paul will have other ideas for next year in Sheffield!
This was a seriously talented cast!
Rita Simons was sensational as the Wicked Queen, absolutely brilliant.
Lloyd Hollett absolutely brilliant firstly as Herman the Henchman and then as Freddie Mercury!
Phil Gallagher delivered a faultless Muddles, and all of the Dwarves were great, especially the very talented Craig Garner who was given the opportunity to showcase his fantastic talents this evening, including his tap dancing !!!
We were treated to the same "Fish Prop Scene" I have seen in St Albans, but dare I say here it was delivered much better.
We had a brilliant Beat Box competition between Snow White and Prince Charming.
The sold out audience were also treated to two absolutely sensational scenes involving breathtaking skills on roller skates. They were absolutely incredible.
There were plenty of gags, when Herman, Muddles and Nellie were arguing who was to kill Snow White in the Forest, Nellie declared it wasn't going to be her, as "she had done it in the matinee"
Ben treated us to one of my favourite dresses of the season, a wonderful Helter Skelter.
We also had flying apples, a wonderful 3D Ghost Scene, and Loopy dropping out of the ceiling dressed as Brian May!
Before This brilliant show was over, there was still time for the Sing-a-long, where Ben Roddy dressed as R2 DD2 dress bin homage to Star Wars.
I had heard a lot of positive things about Canterbury and based on tonight they were all fully justified. An absolutely sensational show, and my only wish would be to have been able to have seen it more than once!
Next up was a FFE double header. I started the day in Richmond.
Cinderella - Richmond
I was really looking forward to enjoying Father and Son Matthew Kelly and Matthew Rixon reprising their roles as the Ugly Sisters, as well as catching up with the brilliant Chris Jarvis as Buttons.
This show had an incredibly strong cast. They were joined by the wonderful Hayley Mills, as the Fairy Godmother, and Andrew Derbyshire as Prince Charming.
I was also able to watch Rhiannon Chesterman and Richard Vincent for the first time. Playing Cinderella and Dandini respectively.
This was a wonderful show, full of exceptional performances.
The Duet of Ed Sheeran's Thinking out Loud, between Rhiannon and Andrew was just perfect. A masterclass in perfect delivery of a song. The pair have exceptional voices, and they were both a joy to watch and listen to! PLEASE IF ANYONE FROM FFE IS READING THIS .. GET THEM TO RECORD IT AND GET IT ON ITUNES, I WANT TO LISTEN TO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN!!
Chris Jarvis was excellent as Buttons, and had the audience laughing throughout the show. The highlights being the Who, What and I don't know scene, as well as the Chocolate Bar routine.
The Matthew's were just brilliant as the Ugly Sisters, every Pantomime company have their No1 Sisters, and these two have to be FFE's. They were absolutely fantastic.
There were also some great gags, such as..
"I had the football lunch, it was a rip off!", well you shouldn't have ordered the Sepp Platter!"
Buttons told us that it was so cold outside "Even Mr Frosty has gone stiff, either that or someone has moved his carrot".
This cast oozed talent throughout. Richard Vincent giving a wonderful performance as Dandini also added to the comedy.
A brilliant show, with a brilliant cast, great direction and plenty of laughs.
At the end of the performance there was just time to head on to the stage, say hi to everyone, congratulate them on a sensational job, grab a photo, before heading straight to the train station and heading to Wimbledon, and Neverland!
Peter Pan - Wimbledon
Peter Pan is usually my least enjoyed pantomime, but that has seriously changed this year, thanks to the brilliance of two very different FFE shows.
This adaptation of Peter Pan was very different from Stoke's but equally brilliant!
The cast was littered with quality. The stand out members being Marcus Brigstocke as Captain Hook, Jarred Christmas as Smee, Verne Troyer as Lofty the Pirate and the actress who I believe has got an amazing future ahead of her, the brilliant Fran Mills as Tinkerbell.
You also had the excellent George Ure as Pan and Flawless as Pirates. This was FFE big budget panto, and it absolutely oozed with class!
Its hard to articulate just how wonderful Marcus Brigstocke was as Hook, or how brilliant Jarred Christmas was as Smee. The chemistry between the two of the was obvious for all to see.
This show had been completely rewritten, to cater for the specific talents of this cast, and that ensured it worked even better.
Tinkerbell got the laughter started when she dismissed Wendy's stories, especially those about Cinderella. "Yeah the Ugly Sisters were good, were you one Wendy"?
Smee wanted to share with us his top pirate jokes, including the one where a Red Pirate Boat and a Blue Pirate boat crashed, they were Marooned!
Or the time he spoke with one of his Pirate friends. "Have you ever had a Parrot?" "No but I've had a cockatoo!"
Jarred's interaction with the young lad he had invited on stage to help teach the Pirate High Five too, was brilliant. His sharp witted skills and memory, ensured constant funny banter between the two for the rest of the show. Jarred showing why he is one of the most in demand comics currently on the circuit.
Next came the arrival of Hook. For the first 20/30 seconds, it looked as though Brigstocke was going to play this baddie straight and mean, a bit like David Badella had last year in Milton Keynes, where it hadn't really made for a great show, but as soon as he started mimicking the New Zealand accent, you knew this wasn't going to be the case and we were in for a great night.
At this point, we were advised that the Jolly Roger was a man down, and they needed a new recruit. Thankfully Smee had been online to Pirates R Us and ordered a new pirate.
Cue the excellent arrival on stage of Verne Troyer as Lofty.
One of the funniest moments of the show, was when the crocodile carried Verne off stage on his back. Here was one US import ready to really get stuck in, embrace the genre of panto, and have a good time. This showed as he was absolutely excellent.
The one liners were coming thick and fast at this point.
Smee was unhappy he didn't have a pistol. "Smee, you're really starting to Pistol me off!" came the response.
Fran Mills as Tinkerbell continued to delight the crowd. When Wendy wanted to become a Lost Girl, she remarked that "Girls don't get lost, its usually the sat nave that is wrong!"
When Smee and Lofty got tied up at Dead Man's Rock, it was up to Hook to come and save them. Yet it seemed to take Hook a considerable amount of time to negotiate the waves, and steer his boat to them! Yes, Marcus brought the house down with fits of laughter as he span the boat round and a round.
He wondered why they were both tied up, and guessed it was "50 Shades of Pirate"
I have seen plenty of Uptown Funk's this season, but you haven't seen it until you see Verne Troyer performing it ... Brilliant.
Next Hook complained that Pirates today have it easy, they remember how things used to be. Nowadays they think "Bootie is something to do with Kim Kardashians behind" and Bootleg is illegally downloading Adele's new single!" We were also treated to an excellent Jack Sparrow impersonation.
Smee was encouraged to get a girlfriend on the new Pirate dating app - "Shiver Me Tindr"
Yet with all this, we still had time for an excellent rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas, a Lip Sync Battle between Hook, Lofty and Smee and references to the Miss World winner mistake, and a tribute to Lemmy!
If that wasn't enough, Flawless delivered some seriously awesome routines, including their show stopping finale in pitch black!
This show was absolutely brilliant from start to finish. Completely original, extremely funny and FFE's Jewel in the Crown most certainly delivered and then some!!
Afterwards, I was lucky enough to meet Verne, Marcus and Jarred, congratulate them on a magnificent show, and get a couple of photos. A truly brilliant night, and a show I wish I could see again!
Big question to decide now, is which Pan was better, Stoke or Wimbledon. Thats going to be TOUGH!!
From FFE's Jewel in the Crown to Qdos Jewel and the Hippodrome in Birmingham.
Aladdin - Birmingham
Again, I was really excited to see this show. I loved Wet Wet Wet, so was looking forward to seeing Marti Pellow, Matt Slack is brilliant, so couldn't wait to see what he had for us this year, and Andrew Ryan is one of the best Dame's in the business, so I couldn't wait to watch him.
Unfortunately I was left very disappointed. Now don't get me wrong, this doesn't mean this wasn't a great show, as it was, and in parts I thoroughly enjoyed it, BUT, I think they missed a trick, and I believe this show could have been much better than it was.
The Set was beautiful and colourful, giving an excellent backdrop.
The Costumes were also wonderful, and those worn for the last number simply spectacular, but I thought the utilisation of the stars was a big issue.
Firstly, you have one of the greatest Dame's in the business in Andrew Ryan in the cast, so why not use him. Everytime he was onstage as Widow Twankey he was brilliant, and the audience loved him, but we hardly saw him in the first half, and we needed to see a lot more of him!
Secondly, Your big name star is Marti Pellow from Wet Wet Wet, so why give him two rather dull songs to sing. Given the creative licence used to get a Giant King Kong to give the whereabouts of the Chosen One, surely similar licence could have been used to get him to belt out one of two of his massive list of hits. Its not like there aren't loads to choose from.
Thirdly, Matt Slack is a brilliant comedian, who has great comic ability, so use him for that! Rather than giving him scenes that were done the previous year in Newcastle, utilise his brilliant impressions, and comedic know how. For me there was one stand out truly original scene last night, which I later found out Matt had actually written, about his Apple Watch on Music Shuffle. It was BRILLIANT, so given his talent and star billing, why not let him do more of his own stuff ??
Thinking back Abanazer never met Twankey, and met Aladdin for the first time at the cave. I can't believe they missed out the most obvious scene ever.. so here you go, if anyone actually reads my views ...
Scene - Twankey, Wishee Washee and Aladdin Meet Abanazer for first time.
Stage right, Twankey, WW, and Aladdin enter, (holding Water pistols behind their backs out of view of audience.)
Stage Left - Abanazer enters...
Abanazer " Do you know who I am?" "I am ..."
WW (Interrupting) " Yes, you are Marti Pellow"
(All three reach behind their backs and start squirting the audience with water)
WW "And they are all (pointing at the audience) Wet, Wet Wet !"
A 90 second scene that I believe would have brought the house down!
The big scene involving Spirit of the Ring and Aladdin, signing "Any Dream will Do" was very similar to the scene they did at the Mayflower in Southampton a few years ago, and the Comedy scene with the Saucepans had come straight from Newcastle.
Of course there were some great scenes, and the Twins delivered again with their flying carpet. But where as FFE the night before had written a show around the Celebrities they had appearing, this show seemed to just squeeze the Celebrities into the script as oppose to play to their strengths.
Any Pantomime with Matt Slack and Andrew Ryan should be a world beater because they are brilliant, and I am a big fan of both, but if they can't play to their strengths, then you won't get the best result.
Given the resemblance to Newcastle the year before, I thought I would at least get the fabulous Music Man scene to look forward to, but for some reason that didn't make the transfer.
I thought that if there were no Wet Wet Wet songs in the show that at least at the end, after the cast bows, and the singalong begins we would get them there, but once the bows were done, and Matt and Julian had said a few words, that was it, the cast were off, not only was there no singalong, but unlike every previous year we didn't even get a rendition of Auld Lang Syne for New Years Eve.
A fantastic cast, a beautiful set, spectacular costumes, but a script that didn't give these wonderful actors/actress chance to shine.
The tickets were close to £50, after booking fees, similar to the previous night in Wimbledon. In the battle of the big two, Wimbledon came out top for me.
A fun show, but one that could have been so so so much better. Please, if you are going to bring big names into a show, utilise their talents!
Aladdin - Bromley
Talking of talent, next up was the brilliant Mark James, and Aladdin in Bromely. Now I am not going to lie, Bromley and I don't have the best track record. My first visit there was to see Steve Guttenberg, and having waiting for 2 hours before the show at the stage door and not seen him arrive, his performance then prompted him to win the inaugural Fish out of Water award. The following visit was to see a rather poor Snow White! Therefore I could be forgiven for wondering what would greet me today!
Well they say 3rd time lucky and it certainly was! This was absolutely cracking show from start to finish.
This was a traditional tale of Aladdin, played out by a truly talented cast, but there were some stand out performances.
Mark James as Wishee Washee was simply brilliant!! I probably wouldn't have liked him so much if I had been on the front row and in the firing line of Piddles the Dinosaur, but thankfully, I was far enough back to laugh at poor guys who were given a soaking!
Jess Robinson was a revelation as the Genie of the Ring, with her wonderful impressions, and I was really impressed with the excellent Scott Maslen as Abanazer. I would go as far as saying he was the Best East Enders actor I had seen this season. Luke Roberts also made for an excellent Aladdin.
Whilst the sets may not be as sparkly as some of the others, the script was sharp, funny and played out at pace.
There were some great one liners too...
I loved it when Widow Twankey played by Bobby Crush announced "I'm beautiful, I can make flowers bloom"
"So can Horse S..." came the reply from the cheeky Wishee Washee!
Scott Maslen added so much to the role of Abanazer, which made the performance even more enjoyable.
There were some fantastic scenes in the show, including Aladdin & Wishee outside the cave, and a well rehearsed and very funny slosh scene.
The jokes also continued to come thick and fast. Another favourite being, "I'm playing Royal Cricket, Prince Charles Bats, and Camilla Parker Bowls!"
Before the end of this show, there was also time for the song sheet. Rather than just go with the usual Old McDonald, Mark James had rewritten the song, replacing Ei Ei O, with Wishee Washee Woo, and we were treated to a great song about Twankey's laundry, as opposed to some timid cats, or over enthusiastic dinosaurs!!
A fabulous show, and definitely the best show I had seen in Bromley.
Jack & the Beanstalk - Crawley
From Bromley, it was time to head over to Crawley, to see Evolutions Jack & The Beanstalk.
This show was directed by the brilliant Ian Smith, who I was really missing being on stage this year, with his Panto Partner in Crime, Michael Batchelor.
The show stars Steve McFadden as Fleshcreep, alongside Andrew Fettes as the Dame, and Lucy Kane as Princess.
It was nice to see Andrew as the Dame, as last time I had seen him in panto, he had been the baddie, in Sheffield's Jack and the Beanstalk. I had also enjoyed him in Ha Ha Holmes!
This was another great show, with yet another strong cast.
Lucy Kane comes from good showbiz stock, and that is apparent with her excellent performance. She has a fantastic voice, and great stage presence.
There were some great jokes and scenes in the show. We were treated to an Evolution favourite with the Magazine props scene.
I loved how the Dame appeared to chose one "lucky" gent in front row, before changing his/her mind and picking on someone else. Something very original and very funny!
We were told Old McDonald had a Tricky Scrabble Hand .. Ei Ei O
There was also a very funny slosh scene.
A wonderful show, performed by a wonderful cast!
So from Crawley, it was a short 200 mile, 4 hour car ride to the next show, Shrewsbury's Dick Whittington.
Dick Whittington - Shrewsbury
Just as in Canterbury, this was an Evolution Masterclass in what makes a brilliant pantomime.
Josh James was an excellent Dick, Darren Tough a superb King Rat, Vicki Stone a brilliant Fairy, Ben Thornton as Captain Crabstick, but the stand out performer for me was the brilliant Brad Fitt.
I don't know what it is about Evolution, but they seem to get the best Dames in the business.
Damian Williams, Ben Roddy, Michael Batchelor, Ian Smith and Brad Fitt are all simply brilliant.
You know when you are watching a natural, and trust me Brad is just that, his performance was off the scale. My biggest question was who was better, Brad, Craig, or Ben, having decided that Damian could have a year off winning Best Dame, as he's won it enough!!
The show started off at great pace, with the Fairy, urging us all to Cheer as if we had just won the Postcode lottery. Not the real lottery, as they didn't have covers for the seats!
Once Brad had made it on to the stage, having missed his big arrival, making for a very funny scene, we were told how he'd been to a fancy dress party in Birmingham. He went as a Chilli, everyone else went as Astronauts. (If you don't get it, try saying Spice in a Brummie accent).
Next up it was time for Dolly to chose a boyfriend. Lucky Leonard, he'd sat in the same seats for the past 3 years, so Dolly had "had him before" much to his families great amusement.
By the Way, this was a great example of how to have some fun with an audience member without crossing the line, and going to the extremes!
We enjoyed the Evolution Sweets trolly routine, but the highlight of the first half was the Dolly Sweet Shop routine.
This is where the pesky kids come in and ask for 50p of Humbugs, which of course are on the top shelf. I did love how they were charged 55p, as they now have to charge for the bag, its the law.
Next Brad made the scene where the money was put in the safe absolutely hysterical. It has never been done this way before, and I had tears rolling down my eyes with laughing so much.
Dame Dolly demonstrated the safe was useless as it was made of wood with a curtain at the back of it. The way Brad did this led to comedy gold. It was simple, yet so clever and incredibly funny!
The first half was so fantastic I didn't want it to end, but I am glad it did, because the second half was even funnier.
We were treated to Brad's wonderful rendition of Candyman, but the killer scene in the entire show was the fantastic "Cooking Scene" in the moving Galley with Dolly the Cook, and Captain Crabstick played by the excellent Ben Thornton.
This was the funniest scene I had seen all season. I think i pulled a muscle laughing so much. So cleverly put together and acted. It was absolutely brilliant.
Before this wonderful show finished there was still time for another really clever costume change, where Dolly the Cook came on stage with her belly showing and a tattoo of her victims name "Leonard" on show.
An absolutely fantastic show, and a real Evolution Master Piece.
We were lucky enough to grab a quick photo with the talented cast at the end of the show, before they headed off home to make the most of their last days off before the run ends.
It was also nice to grab a drink with the brilliant Brad Fitt, who missed out on dinner with his family to talk to us, which was Mad but lovely of him at the same time!!
All in all it made for an absolutely brilliant evening, and ensured I will be visiting Shrewsbury again in future years.
I was so glad I had the opportunity to sing the praises of this great show, when I did a 5 minute slot on BBC Radio Shrewsbury the next day!
As a number of shows are now closed, the next visit was a return to Milton Keynes to see my good friend Phil Holden in Aladdin.
As with the first time, this was again a wonderful show, albeit we had a slightly abridged If I was Not scene due to poor Gary Wilmot injuring himself quite badly over the Christmas period. This was his first night back in the show, and he did an admirable job considering the pain he was obviously in.
The show did feature a very dodgy call out from Kev Orkian where he shamelessly asked to win a Panto Award! So here you go Kev ...
The 2016 Award for WORST and MOST INAPPROPRIATE SHOUT OUT" goes to ..... Drum roll...
Unfortunately Kev didn't join us in the pub afterwards, where I had an absolutely brilliant evening with this talented cast!
At this point I should point out that inexcusably, in my initial review of the show, I missed out how fantastic and amazing the moving magic carpet in the cave was, and how expertly it kicked Aladdin on a number of occasions!!
Whilst Kev didn't join us, I was delighted to meet last years Winner of Best Female Lead, Holly Brewer who had also been in the crowd tonight. She had recently finished her role, also as Princess Jasmine but in Southampton, with Qdos excellent production, featuring Joe Pasquale, Duncan James and the wonderful Ceri Dupree. One of a handful of shows I had really wanted to see, but missed out on this year.
We had a really enjoyable night, although probably the most surreal moment of the panto tour, was Holly Brewer, Aimie Atkinson, and Ben Adams, suggesting I should join them for Yoga! Yes I could do with it, but I am not sure me and Yoga would mix too well. Maybe Yoda !!!
An absolutely brilliant night, and one i didn't want to end, but end it needed to , due to work next day.
Unfortunately work prevented me from taking up my kind invitation to see the Kings Langley Players show on Thursday night, so that meant my next show would be on Saturday and what I though would be my final FFE production of the season, Sleeping Beauty in Woking.
Sleeping Beauty - Woking
I was really looking forward to watching Sleeping Beauty especially since I found out that Simon Nehan was playing Dame. Ok I was intrigued more than anything, having seen him in Under Milk Wood and as Alderman Fitzwarren last year in Stoke. This was going to be totally different. Now I knew that Simon was a brilliant actor, but even with the knowledge I couldn't have braced myself for the sensational performance he gave as Dame, Simon was an absolute revelation, he was absolutely brilliant!
This was a really talented cast, including the excellent Ben Faulks as the prince, Alan Committie as Chester the Jester and the wonderful but slightly MAD !!! Anita Dobson!
Anita was absolutely amazing, and made it hard to boo her Wicked Queen. Many will know her from her time in East Enders, where she was anything but a comedy actress, but here she shows just how great she is at delivering laughs in abundance! She was just great. My only criticism, was after starting the show with a lovely sparkly front sheet, and first set, we were then transformed back to the old tired set, which didn't do justice to this wonderful cast!
Before I left Woking I was able to pop backstage and catch up with Simon and congratulate him on his fantastic performance, and talk about how much he had enjoyed the transformation from Alderman to Dame!
As a real bonus, I also managed to finally meet George Wood from FFE. George and I had been exchanging a number of emails, but I finally got to meet one of the brains behind all these wonderful shows.
It was great to meet someone as passionate about Panto's as I am! As we talked, George made me more disappointed that Woking had been my final FFE show of the season. Of course making that remark in front of George resulted in a return trip to Neverland the next day, and a chance to catch the brilliant Wimbledon team one more time, in their final show. Not that's I was complaining I hasten to add.
George has to be one of the nicest people I've met in Pantoland, and I look forward to catching up with him again once the season is complete.
Before I go to see Wimbledon I get to enjoy my Brother's Birthday Party and a trip to Windsor to see Cinderella.
Cinderella - Windsor
On arrival at the Theatre Royal in Windsor, I was delighted to realise my seat had no seat in front of me, given my last visit here I had struggled with the lack of leg room. That joy was tinged with concern as I was sat directly in front of the steps leading down from the stage, and I was slightly concerned that I could become a boyfriend to one of the Ugly sisters !
Once the brilliant Steven Blakeley and Shaun Prendergast had arrived on stage, and left without picking on any of the audience, I relaxed in my seat, and settled back to enjoy the show.
Big Mistake! As I was to play a starring role in the second half performing at the Royal Ball, alongside Ant and Kevin Cruise, showing the sold out crowd my Uptown Funk.
So, as readers of this blog with know, I don't like being picked on, so here is my review of the Windsor Panto ...
"It was an absolutely terrible show, Buttons was especially terrible, and I would recommend never going to see this panto again! Truly horrific" and let that be a lesson to anyone who wants to pick on me in future!! Lol
Had I NOT been picked on my review would have read something like this..
Winsdor was a fantastic show with a great cast and played out with even more jokes given we were at the final matinee of the run. I am not quite sure what the Camel was doing on the stage for the Prince and Cinderella's big number, and I am not sure they knew too, but it was extremely funny and boy could it move.
At the time I felt sorry when the funny Kevin Cruise was hit with custard pies in the face by the entire backstage crew, but of course by the end, I wished I had got to pie him too!
Kevin was the glue that held the show together. But he was assisted in his task by a wonderful cast. As well as writing this show, Steven Blakeley also takes on the role of Dame. His fantastic arrival on stage was the prequel to his fantastic performance.
When playing an Ugly Sister, you are reliant on the actor you are playing opposite, and Steven couldn't have chosen better with the brilliant Shaun Prendergast as his "Sister". The two of them were absolutely brilliant.
Jai McDowell made for an excellent Prince and Zoe Salmon a wonderful Cinderella.
We were treated to a great Twelve Days of Christmas and a number of great scenes in this wonderful show.
As Cinderella was reunited with the Prince, and the slipper confirmed as her's, it was time to make a sharp exit to give us a realistic chance to get to Wimbldeon in time for curtain up.
It had been a fun afternoon, even if I was now contacting Equity having made my first and hopefully final appearance on stage this season, or EVER ideally!!
It was great to catch up briefly again with George before the show. I asked if he was going to watch this sensational show one more time. It was at this point he advised me he had already seen it 12 times !! Now that's not bad going for even me!! My record is seeing the same panto 4 times!!
The show was as brilliant the second time as it had been the first. It made a few of the awards clearer in my mind having seen the show again, and gave me confidence in the decisions I had made so far.
So, will they win any awards,well not long to wait now to find out!!
I was very kindly invited to go and see the Wales Methodist Church Pantomime Players Aladdin at the Montgomery Theatre in Sheffield.
Aladdin - Montgomery Theatre - Sheffield
This was an Amateur production but apart from the slightly less glamorous theatre you would never have known, so good was this great show.
Obviously some of the cast were stronger than others, but they all added to this great show. There were a few real stand out performances. None more so than the excellent Nicholas Challenger as Widow Twankey. Nicholas was excellent and I struggled to believe his full time role was running a hair salon, as his performance was better than a number of professional dames I have seen over the years.
Nicholas also Directs the show, and he can be very proud of his efforts.
The crowd loved PC Ping & Pong played by the brilliant Martin Crowther and Philip Burgess. The two of them played out some of the funniest scenes in the show. None more so than the Little Birdie scene and Twelve Days of Christmas.
If I couldn't believe Nicholas wasn't a pro, I don't believe Joseph Bairstow isn't either. His performance as Abanazer was seriously superb and it wouldn't have been out of place in a professional show.
Alison Wade made for an excellent Aladdin, and Toni Lemm a brilliant Princess.
Paul Burgess was excellent as Wishee Washee, but I did want to shove his selfie stick somewhere! Don't get me wrong, I am all for taking photos, and involving the audience but he spent his entire time of stage with his selfie stick taking photos. Maybe just take a few photos during the show, rather than the whole way through. That said, he was great, and helped deliver a wondering Wall Scene with Twankey and Dishee Doshee played by another great performer in Lee Phillips.
Indeed he had one of my favorite lines in the show, "I've been up all night, as I wanted to see where the sun went, and then in dawned upon me"
There were some really great scenes in the show! We had a great Mirror Scene again with Pong and Wishee. There was also a magical Carpet Ride, which was more impressive than a number of professional shows carpets had been!
There was an excellent Ghost Scene including Wishee and the Dame coming into the audience, to escape the Gorilla, even if Twankey wanted to take refuge on my knee.
Before the end of the show, there was a song sheet, where I think every child in the audience came on stage and they all left with a huge bag of sweets.
All that was left was the closing number and the spectacular entrance of Widow Twankey with a lit up dress. It was magnificent.
To be fair, all the costumes in the entire show were sensational and I would guess there was a busy team working behind the scenes to ensure this cast were as well dressed as they were!
What was also refreshing was a Dame who actually changed her costume every time they went off stage!!
A really enjoyable evening played out by a very impressive and talented cast.
From here, it was a short hop down the motorway to the Nottingham Playhouse for their final show of Dick Whittington.
Nottingham Playhouse - Dick Whittington
Having happened on the last performance by accident last year and realized that it was this show where the pranks took place, we purposely took the decision to come to this show this time round. By the interval, we had booked for the last nights madness for next year.
This would have been a brilliant pantomime anyway, but add the last nights madness you had one of the funniest shows of the season!
Anyone who has read my reviews before will know how highly I rate this talented cast, but with great reason, they really are sensational.
Anthony Hoggard is a real favorite of mine, and listening to the sold out audience, them as well!! This actor is brilliant, and like a lot of people watch over the panto season, I don't understand why he isn't a household name. Anthony was fantastic as usual and the audience were giving him a really hard time shouting AGAIN every time he had an awkward line to deliver!
Another gem in this brilliant cast is John Elkington as Sarah the Cook. He put in a simply faultless performance, and it's no surprise what a wonderful reception he gets every time he comes on stage.
Newcomer to this brilliant team was the brilliant Matthew Chase as Jack, and hopefully he will be back next year. To be fair, midway through one of the pranks Kenneth Alan Taylor did promise him a role next year!
Kevin McGowan was not only an excellent King Rat, but very patient when the sound crew tried to turn him into a Chipmunk at a key part of the show.
Old favorites Rebecca Little was brilliant as the ditzy Fairy Bowbells, and Tim Frater as the excellent Dick Whittington.
There were some wonderful scenes, I am sure the normal bedroom scene with Jack and the Dame would have been brilliant without Dick & Alice appearing looking like they were in the middle of getting to know each other better!!
My favorite prank however, was when it was time for Tallulah the Cat to appear, rather than Jasmine White's arrival on stage, on came Anthony Hoggard dressed as the cat. Everyone absolutely wet themselves! Once that had happened the audience knew we were in for a night of madness and the cast and crew duely obliged.
When Jack wanted his teddy bear to be looked after, tonight, we got a proper security guard to keep an eye on him!
We were treated to Kenneth Alan Taylor taking it the stage to delivery his Tommy Cooper impression!
Away from the pranks, there was a stunning brilliant show. There was a wonderful scene at the start of the second half where we saw a wonderful Upton Funk and Hot Hot hot medley.
To be fair if it wasn't for Verne Troyer's Upton Funk, this would have been the best of the season! So good we actually got 4 encores.
The set was excellent especially the wonderful airplane to take the team back to London.
The costumes were also excellent, and really colorful.
This really was a brilliant show, made even better by the last show banter!!
A great night out, and I am so pleased to have secured my place to watch the final show again next year.
With many shows now closing, I had to wait until Friday evening to get my next panto fix, and this time it was a return to the Signal Box Theatre in York for another chance to see the spectacular staging of Dick Whittington. The show was as spectacular the scorned time round as it had been the first.
From York it was off to see an old favourite of mine. Billy Pearce who this year was joined by Lisa Riley, John Challis and Jake Canuso, in Jack and the Beanstalk.
Jack & The Beanstalk - Bradford
The Alhambra in Bradford is Billy's second home, indeed he remarked, "I was here first, they build the theatre around me!"
As you would expect from the star studded cast, we were treated to a wonderful show, although Billy was concerned he was about to get the sack after 17 years at Bradford, as he performed the Pheasant Plucker sketch.
Lisa Riley was fantastic as the Spirit of the Beans, and looked amazing having lost loads of weight! John Challis was excellent as the evil Fleshcreep, but the audience got what they wanted when he slipped into Boycie once the Giant has been defeated.
Jake Canuso starred as Benny Dorm, putting on his best Matteo accent, to the thrill of the packed out theatre.
A great show, which still had time for the Twins wonderful helicopter and a rousing singalong at the end.
Peter Pan - Wolverhampton
From Bradford it was off down to Wolverhampton for my final show of the season. Yes 37 shows later, it was to end with John Altman and the Chuckle Brothers in Peter Pan.
Quite how the Chuckles keep up that tempo twice a day for 6 weeks is beyond me, but I hope I am as fit as they are when i reach my later years!
I was delighted to hear the Chuckles Present Song, as they threw out gifts to the audience, and enjoyed their story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
It was also great to see the wonderful Lucy Evans as Tinkerbell, spreading her fairy magic on stage.
Another great show, with a wonderful soundtrack, and the perfect way to end the season.
From here, it was off to The Queens Chinese for an awards dinner, where I was joined by a couple of the Barrow Panto Crew, and Sam Rabone, who had starred as Dame in Yeovil this year.
We all agreed it had been a great season, but I dont think any of us are in a hurry to hear Uptown Funk again anytime soon.
Just 10 months to go until I do it all again .... so roll on 26th November at Theatre Royal Newcastle for Cinderella!!